Ergative-Absolutive 101

Languages differ in how they overtly mark functions and their arguments, if they overtly mark at all… This month’s iLanguage game shows an example of the “Ergative-Absolutive” system,┬ápresent in Hindi-Urdu, Walpiri, Inuktitut among others. In reality, its not as complicated as its name might indicate, in fact, we argue its quite logical.

In 9.10.a and 9.10.c we see that the Experiencer of travel is rather consistently is marked with -aq, as is Experiencer of greet in 9.10.b and 9.10.d. What might surprise you if you speak English, French or any other “Nominative-Accusative” language is that the -aq is consistently on the Experiencer, regardless of whether its the subject or the object.

In 9.10.e and 9.10.g we see that 1st person Experiencers appear on the verb, not as pronouns. This might sound familiar if you studied/speak Spanish.

9.10.f is particularly exciting since we don’t have enough data to say what is going on. We recommend stopping the next Yup’ik Eskimo speaker you run into and asking them to give you a verb that ends in a consonant, they might put -aq on the end when you give them a context to bring them to say he xe-ed yesterday

Want to see more language data? Examples are taken from I-Language: An Introduction to Linguistics as Cognitive Science by Daniela Isac and Charles Reiss. http://linguistics.concordia.ca/I-language/

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